Urban Renewal

Weblog Helma Hellinga


16 February 2009


What is the new urban renewal? Nobody knows. It seems it has something to do with certain neighbourhoods, which for various reasons are considered as problem neighbourhoods. The Dutch government considers the large area of the Amsterdam Western Garden Cities (Westelijke Tuinsteden) as a problem neighbourhood. This 'neighbourhood' houses almost a hundred thousand people, about a seventh of the population of Amsterdam (nor is this the only problem neighbourhood in Amsterdam). Politicians want these problem neighbourhoods to change and improve and choose names for these idealised states: 'magnificent' or 'powerful' neighbourhoods. Often politicians refer to these designated neighbourhoods in these idealised terms, not unlike the habit of new ministers, who for political reasons,  invent another (not translatable) neologism for these future 'nice' areas. As a consequence the perception is reversed and when hearing 'powerful neighbourhood' you might well assume the area is not ok. 


The question is: what kinds of neighbourhood problems are we are talking about? Well, that is not so clear. Characteristic of this lack of clarity is, that the number of problem neighbourhoods changes at every change of government. Often the problems are blamed on the migrants, but not always. In Amsterdam, Moroccan and Turkish immigrants with their children (mostly born in Amsterdam) are considered the most significant part of the problem, at least by politicians. They are considered to be a problem because some of the elderly are analphabetic and isolated from Dutch society and these young people are more criminal than native Dutch youth (specialty: robbing bags from old women).

These measures, taken in the name of 'urban renewal', are drastic: thousands of mostly post-war houses, in more or less good condition, are demolished in Amsterdam-West alone, about 13.000 of the original stock of 47.000. The idea is to demolish the problem areas. 'Demolishing from a social point of view', an Amsterdam district chairman called it some years ago. So the blight of illiteracy and poverty is razed, replacing it with more expensive housing built for the middle class income bracket.

So the primary aim is not to provide the people in these neighbourhoods the chances for a better future, but to 'upgrade' the neighbourhood, so it will become attractive for another class with more money and more acceptable behaviour. Yet the housing corporations and politicians do their utmost to give the inhabitants the idea that all these measures are to their advantage. They tell the inhabitants that they can return to the neighbourhood in new and better housing whilst knowing that most of the new-build will be beyond their means. They say to those inhabitants who resist eviction: "You want your children to stay in the neighbourhood? Your children want better houses." Of course many inhabitants want to live near their children. They also say, that building better houses will keep the  better off inhabitants in the neighbourhood.

These are all very generous and social aims. But when this social fog has cleared, it appears that the dispossessed Amsterdam-Moroccan family has found alternative housing by themselves, after the long period of uncertainty about the fate of their houses. Sometimes such families find a house in a neighbourhood that is also due for subsequent demolition, so they have to withstand the misery another time. Once they have left the neighbourhood, nobody cares for them anymore and they have to solve their own problems.

The new urban renewal is not meant to be a solution for the problems of these inhabitants, unlike the old urban renewal of the seventies. It is meant to create showy neighbourhoods, as benchmarks for political careers and housing corporations.

 (translation: Keith Milow)


4 September 2009

September already and I didn't write anything on this 'weblog'. This doesn't work. The reason is that since I have Vista, I cannot download my webprogram Frontpage.  So I have to use someone else's computer to make changes in my site. But now I found a solution for this weblog in using a special blogpage on the website. Next week or so you can find my new blogs on: